Something common place happens here in Cincinnati every noon on the 1st Wednesday of the month.
Like many other areas, the sirens go off. They produce a steady stream of the high-pitch wailing that usually signals an impending storm that could threaten our lives and our homes. It’s usually a sign to collect the kids and head for cover, grabbing the flashlight and radio on the way. It signals a moment when it’s best to place our trust and faith in the almighty power of God and the protection of the Blessed Mother.
But for the 1st Wednesday of every month, it is just a test. It lasts for minutes, conversation usually stops, and then we go on our way.
What was interesting about this month’s test was that it was All Soul’s Day and I was in 11:30 Mass just about Communion time. During the beginning of Communion, the siren went off.
The siren was so loud that it seemed to be parked in the sacristy. The siren drowned out the Dominican brothers who were chanting the Communion hymn. Eventually, they gave up and stopped.
And a very peculiar scene started to unfold. We formed a long line, each a communicant receiving the Eucharist under the sounds of a siren and then under a half-silence punctuated by “the Body of Christ” ringing throughout the church. Both the siren and the contrasting half-silence seemed to permeate every nook and cranny of the church and every crevice of our souls.
It brought urgency to what we were doing and a keener awareness of who we were receiving.
The urgency was especially acute because we still were contemplating the wonderful and powerful homily we had heard on the reality of Purgatory. Father was very matter-of-fact in explaining the existence of Purgatory. He didn’t dance around the fact that Purgatory was real. He even made it sound somewhat appealing in emphasizing that it is a place for us to go to be purified before going to heaven and spending eternal life with God; a place for us to wash away the grime and degradation of our human sin.
We average Catholics tend to want to wish away the existence of Purgatory or think of it as a bad thing. We don’t want to acknowledge that our human sinfulness has consequences for us in the next life. We want to narrow our choices to heaven and hell and be comforted by the perception that only bad people go to hell.
But Purgatory is real. The Church is very emphatic about its existence. And, at this Mass with the sirens going off, it was as if Christ was sounding the alarm. He was telling us to listen to this priest; that Purgatory and hell exist; and that we are to conform our lives to Christ so as to avoid hell, and cut down on the time spent in Purgatory (if not eliminate it altogether).
And the fact that this siren sounded during Communion was especially poignant. Every Eucharist that we receive brings with it a special meaning for our lives. In partaking of the body and blood of Christ, we are giving ourselves over to Christ and his Church, acknowledging that we belong to him.
And if we belong to him, then we must answer a question. Who do we not belong to?
If we truly take Christ’s body and blood as he intended for us to take him, then we cannot give priority to the world, allowing our faith and moral lives to be influenced by those who deny Christ and the Church.
Our challenge is to understand the nature of sin – what it is, how the culture encourages it, and how it impacts our life now and going forward into eternity. It is important to realize that sin is what separates us from God and that Purgatory helps reunite us with him. But it would be better for us if we just united ourselves with Christ now, in this life, and led our lives in total uniformity with his will.
As with that siren during Mass, Christ always sounds the alarm in our lives when we are going astray. Sometimes it’s obvious; most times it’s subtle. It’s up to us to hear it in either case. It’s this alarm that will sound the way to heaven.
Stairway to Heaven is a weekly feature exploring how to live our Catholic faith in our culture.